Searching online via a browser is the main way potential customers discover a brand’s or organization’s website. Making it easier for them – with paid ads or otherwise – to find your site is one of the most effective ways to draw more traffic and awareness to your site.
Designing, writing and coding your website with this in mind can not only increase the volume but also the quality of visitors to your site.
A savvy digital marketer who cares about one of the first touchpoints in the customer journey needs to have a search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimization (SEO) strategy in his toolkit.
Search engine marketing
Search engine marketing is the branch of digital marketing that relies on both paid advertising and organic techniques that don’t involve payment – the latter falling under the term SEO – to increase the visibility of websites in search engine results pages (SERPs). Globally, Google is the leading search engine by far, accounting for over 91% of searches, followed by Bing and Yahoo!1. Google also owns Ask, the sixth-largest search engine. Baidu and Yandex are the most popular search engines in China and Russia, respectively, making up around a percentage each of searches worldwide.
Besides SEO, SEM encompasses the following: paid inclusion or sponsored listings placed within the results of search engine queries using Google Adwords or Bing Ads, pay-per-click (PPC), article submissions, and search retargeting. With search retargeting, display ads target searches made on other sites by customers who have never visited your site.
Getting on the first page of SERPs
SERPs include paid ads on top as well as organic results below them in an ordered list. Traffic that comes through SEO are referred to as ‘organic search results’ to differentiate it from traffic that comes from paid search. The higher up on the list your website can get, the more traffic it will receive.
A Sistrix study that analyzed over 80 million keywords and billions of search results found that the first organic result in Google search has an average click-through rate of 28.5%2. The second and third positions have only a 15% and 11% click-through rate respectively. The tenth position in Google has a measly 2.5% click-through rate. Rarely does anyone even click to the second page.
What is SEO and how does it work?
Search engine optimization (SEO) sounds as though it’s mainly about the search engines. Search engines do play a starring role as the medium through which the search is conducted and routed and their algorithms used to direct the customers looking for information. An example is how Google ‘crawls’ through the web to find and analyze new content, pages or websites to index them even before you search one word. Then its famed algorithms – which is tweaked regularly – matches the searches that users put in to match them to the entries in its search index3.
However, SEO is also about your customers. It is just as pivotal to understand what they are seeking, what the words they use when they seek it and the type of content they consume. It is using that knowledge to differentiate your website from that of your competitors’ so that potential customers are led to yours instead of theirs.
SEO techniques to optimize content can be divided into three categories: on-page, technical and off-page.
On-page SEO relates to the content on an individual page or website.
- Identify and optimize keywords and opportunities
- Research the best terms and phrases (keywords) that might generate traffic to your site as well as their intent. Creating and publishing high-quality content that includes those target keywords in all the right places is the next step.
- Copywriting for the web keeping SEO in mind uses writing techniques such as the inverted pyramid of information with the conclusion first, ‘chunking’ text to keep readers interested and uses calls to action and instructions.
- Metatags are snippets of text which are included in the source code of the webpage that help search engines understand the content. These need to be reviewed and updated over time.
Technical SEO involves the technical elements of a website beyond content. It not only improves the site’s readability for crawlers but also improves the user experience, so it is doubly important.
- Speed and site performance The speed at which pages load, how pages respond and if they are mobile-friendly or relevant to local or international users are directly connected to user engagement. With voice search exploding, being optimized for voice is becoming more important too.
- On-site coding implementation This relates to the placement of elements on the page as well as the HTML source code. On-site SEO helps search engines as well as users understand what a page is about and identify it as relevant to the search query or keywords.
- Ranking report & tracking There are a variety of tools that track metrics such as a rise or drop in the value of keyword rankings and SERP features such as snippets and Knowledge Graphs,
Off-page SEO is about amplifying the authority and influence that your website has in relation to other sites.
- Link building High-quality links that point to your site from relevant and authoritative sites show search engines that your website is a trusted source, that it is established and valuable to many others.
- Social optimization also involves using social media outlets and communities to generate awareness for your site and your products and services.
As you can see, there are many moving parts to an SEM/SEO strategy. As an unpaid alternative, SEO may be cost-effective, but it is very tricky to get right. The strategy also needs to be monitored and reviewed constantly. This is why a site redesign is the ideal time to involve an SEO expert to optimize your website for search engines.
1. Search Engine Market Share Worldwide, Dec 2020, Statcounter Globalstats, https://gs.statcounter.com/search-engine-market-share
2. Why (almost) everything you knew about Google CTR is no longer valid, Sixtrix, July 14, 2020, https://www.sistrix.com/blog/why-almost-everything-you-knew-about-google-ctr-is-no-longer-valid/
3. How Google Search works, Google, https://www.google.com/search/howsearchworks/